I had been running http://hillmancurtis.com for almost a year when Gabe Kean, from http://www.bornmag.com, an online art and literature site, approached me with the offer to design a spot for the NYC-based poet Christina Manning. In the year of running my shop, I had, along with my team, focused almost exclusively on corporate clients ”establishing brand and messaging, reinforcing logo recognition, and concepting storyboards and ad treatments . We had worked hard to establish our small team as a leader in targeted rich media and motion graphics and we were buzzed by the work we were doing. Still, when the offer came from Gabe, I jumped at the opportunity. It would give me the chance to work with a ton of freedom and with a poet.
The job presented a couple of challenges immediately; the first was time ”I only had a few days I could spare ”and the other was more of a design challenge. How does one present a midsized poem over the web in a way that would be both functional (no preload) and compelling? I knew I didn't want to have just pretty pictures and scrolling text. In fact, I began to look at this spot as an opportunity to free myself from my reliance on type in motion.
The solution revealed itself the moment I heard Christina read the poem. Although I was familiar with the poem, I asked her to read it out loud. I wanted to hear the rhythm in the poem. Being aware that poetry is based in cadence and rhythm just as is motion graphics, my thoughts ran to the obvious solution of capturing and reflecting the rhythm of the poem in my spot. But what was more clearly revealed as I listened was that I had no choice but to try and present the poet reading the poem. Her reading style is amazing. I had to use it.
Once I decided to design the spot around Christina's voice-over, I simply broke out my video camera and filmed Christina reading the poem. I figured that with my camera I could capture both the audio and make use of some of the visuals I would later grab from the video. This ended up working great. The challenge then was to come up with a design that used a limited number of bitmaps, reusing those bitmaps throughout the file to keep the stream free for the audio. Think of it this way regardless of your viewer's connection, be it a T1 or 56.6 modem, there is a pipeline through which bits of your file stream. If you can come up with a file with assets light enough not to clog the stream, you win. In this case, I carefully chose a total of seven bitmaps pulled from my video of Christina reading that I could reuse throughout the file. I furthered my chances at an open pipeline by blurring the bitmaps in Photoshop prior to importing them into Flash. The blur allowed me the freedom to apply a heavy amount of JPEG compression in Flash without a lot of image breakup.
So, in essence, I targeted the poet's voice-over reading of the poem as the most important element in this file, and then I did everything I could to design around that carefully constructing a montage of images that relied on repetition, varied scale and angles, overlays, and positioning to keep the spot visually compelling.
All the while, I kept in mind that her voice-over audio stream would be occupying most of my pipeline.